White But Not Quite: Racism By and Racism Against Eastern Europeans

Lecture format: online via Zoom.

Racial capitalism requires that the subaltern periphery, providing cheap labour and new markets, be placed behind an imagined racial barrier, so that the full protection of the liberal state is not extended to it. This has applied also to the ‘Eastern enlargement’ of the EU. The East has had to compete with a much richer and more powerful West. When it became apparent that, inevitably, the East was unable to ‘catch up’, its ‘failure’ was attributed to its being allegedly backward and culturally incompatible with the West. This racist discourse has penetrated global and European politics, economics, and media. It also affects, and is affected by, interaction between people who move from the East to the West and the long-settled population there.

Unfortunately, many Eastern Europeans project their own racialization onto others. This dynamic is articulated from the intermediate position of Eastern Europe, between the core West and the Global South. It aims to affirm the threatened whiteness of people in the region by insisting on their ‘Europeanness’ and distancing them from the Global South. But also, it functions within Eastern Europe, with each country to the East imagined as less Western and more ‘Eastern European’, until one reaches the prototypical Eastern European nation, Russia. For racism against Eastern Europeans also reflects, in the final analysis, the long-standing imperial rivalry between the West and Russia. And as such, it has played a part in the genesis and conduct of the current war in Ukraine.

Ivan Kalmar’s research has addressed a wide range of topics ranging from Inuit language and the mythology of the computer, to the image of Muslims and Jews in western Christian cultural history. Currently his research focuses on illiberalism in Europe, with a focus on relations between the post-communist members of the European Union and the rest (including between the East and the West in Germany). Prof. Kalmar has co-edited Orientalism and the Jews (University Press of New England, 2005) and published Early Orientalism: Imagined Islam and the Notion of Sublime Power (Routledge, 2012). His latest book is White But Not Quite: Central Europe’s Populist Revolt (University of Bristol Press, 2022). Prof. Kalmar’s has edited a special issue of Patterns of Prejudice on Islamophobia in the East of the European Union and, together with Nitzan Shoshan, a special issue of The Journal of Contemporary European Studies called Islamophobia in Germany: East/West. Currently he is co-editing a proposed special issue on race and racialization in the East of the European Union, with Aleksandra Lewicki.